• Frank Haight: From one career to another, and finally to retirement

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  • Say goodbye to Wendell Shaffer, District 11 coordinator of the AARP Tax Aide services for the state of Missouri.
    “I’m hoping my last day as district coordinator is April 15,” says the 75-year-old Lee’s Summit resident, who is responsible for 16 tax-preparation sites, including one in Independence, two in Lee’s Summit, one in Blue Springs and five in Kansas City. Other district sites are in Harrisonville and Belton.
    Wendell, who became a district coordinator in 2011, isn’t really retiring from the AARP Tax Aide program. He’s just going in a different direction.
    “I am redirecting my life,” says Wendell, who became an AARP Tax Aide counselor 21 years ago in Stillwater, Okla., where he and his wife, Judy, resided at the time.
    “I am stepping down with my district responsibilities and will stay and do taxes at the two Lee’s Summit libraries,” he says, where some 600 tax returns were prepared last year. “It’s time for someone else to step up and take over the district.”
    Preparing taxes wasn’t a new adventure for Wendell. He had always prepared his own taxes, so it wasn’t surprising when he replied “sure” when a friend asked if he would like to help him prepare taxes for AARP.
    “That was back when I was doing it by hand; then we went to computers, and we do it all by computers now,” he says, adding: “I am not sure I could do it by hand anymore.”
    Growing up on a 320-acre farm just outside of Chester, Okla., Wendell might never have become a tax aide counselor if he hadn’t listened to his father while pulling broom corn by hand in the hot August sun.
    “I’ll help you all I can in college, but don’t take agriculture,” he recalls his father telling him.
    Wendell heeded his father’s advice. When he enrolled at Oklahoma A&M – before it became Oklahoma State University in 1957, he majored in business administration and minored in economics and accounting. He graduated in 1960, and never gave agriculture a second thought.
    During his 26-year residence in Stillwater, Wendell had thoughts of working someday for his alma mater. But that never materialized.
    He did apply for a job at Oklahoma State after retiring from Conoco Inc. He missed getting that job because he didn’t have a degree in accounting.
    “No, I just had 30 years of experience,” he quipped.
    Wendell did land a part-time job with the university serving food in the OSU press box at all football games.
    For 22 years, “I got to watch the games for free and got to meet a lot of people,” he says. “... I had what you call a boondoggle.”
    Wendell’s life was anything but dull. When he graduated from college in 1960, “I was No. 1 on the draft board in Major County where I was from,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to be in the Army, so I joined the Air Force Reserve, served six months, got out and got married in March of ’61.”
    Page 2 of 2 - Wendell wasn’t out of the Reserve very long before his unit was recalled to active duty for a year.
    “I thought if this happens again, I don’t want to be on KP, so I applied for a nondirect commission in the Air Force and received it in ’64.”
    After a 30-year career, he retired from the Air Force in 1990 as a lieutenant colonel.
    When he’s not preparing taxes for seniors, Wendell enjoys “piddling” in his workshop, where he does some woodworking, but “nothing fancy,” he says. He likes making rocking chairs.
    Although Wendell and Judy have visited all 50 states and 10 countries, there’s nothing that pleases him more than barbershop singing.
    Before the Shaffers moved to Lee’s Summit in 2008 to be closer to their two children and two grandsons, Wendell sang tenor in “Three Old Goats and a Kid” quartet.
    “And I wasn’t the kid,” Wendell says with a chuckle.
    After moving to Lee’s Summit, he sang with the “Overland Stage Chorus,” which later disbanded. Now he sings with “New Harmony Handful,” a men’s chorus, and with the quartet, “Homeward Bound.”
    Wendell remembers singing for the first time in church in front of his grandmother who was hearing him sing for the first time.
    “He’s going to make a fool of himself,” she was heard to say. Afterwards, she told her grandson: “You are like Jim Nabors. You talk one way and sing another.”
    You can also add distance running to Wendell’s list of achievements. He has run four times in the Okie Relays, a four-man relay across the Oklahoma panhandle from Elkhart, Kan., to Texoma, Texas, which is on the Texas-Oklahoma border. He also participated 23 times in the 15K Tulsa Run, and narrowly missed qualifying for the Boston Marathon by 10 minutes.
    Wendell believes he’s leaving his coordinator’s job with a clean record.
    “I try to do things upright, you know, and kind of lead by example. I don’t want to ask someone to do something that I am not afraid to do.”
    Retired community news reporter Frank Haight Jr. writes this column for The Examiner. You can leave a message for him at 816-350-6363.
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